Edith Russ Site for Media Art /
Edith-Ruß-Haus für Medienkunst (2003)

R. J. Preece
artdesigncafé - art | 19 March 2011
This article was previously published in Sculpture, 22(5), June 2003, pp. 22-3.

Edith Russ Site for Media Art

New technologies continue to evolve at a lightning-quick pace, with developments in new media art following suit. In addition to its continuing integration into the art mainstream, media art has witnessed widening exhibition platforms, festivals, books, and other specialized media outlets, and venues continue to pop up around the globe. The Edith Russ Site for Media Art is one such venue— launched in 2000 in the small city of Oldenburg in northern Germany, near Bremen. This center was initially made possible by a generous gift— not from a government, corporation, or wealthy patron, but from a local school teacher and journalist. One with an artistic vision.

The donor, Edith Russ (1919-93), is reported to have led a modest life, and, upon her death, she left DM 1,2 million (about $600,000) to the city to build a "house for the arts"— a site to create "art for the transition into the 21st century." With this remit, the Edith Russ House was conceptualized and built; today it consists of a two-story, 300-square meter exhibition space, three guest apartments, and a lecture hall. Over the course of its short history, it has evolved into a space that presents international media art, while remaining integrated with its local community.

Since its opening, the Edith Russ Site has organized a variety of exhibitions, including "Magical Machines" (2002), "Avatars and Others" (2001), "Cyberfem Spirit— Spirit of Data" (2001-02), "Fact-Fiction" (2000), and the inaugural exhibition "reality checkpoint" (2000). Within these contexts, the space has shown a wide range of works by both contemporary artists and 20th-century masters such as Marcel Duchamp and Dan Graham.

In “Magical Machines”, Gregory Barsamian presented an animated sculpture (1993), a rotating, somewhat archaic sphere depicting "the creation and destruction of the world in a never-ending cycle." Shown in ERS’s inaugural show, Kirsten Geisler’s Dream of beauty 2.0 (1999) features a woman trapped in technology. "Talk to me," she commands longingly, appearing interactive. When you try to communicate via a telephone, however, the futility of the effort becomes obvious. In the same exhibition, Debra Solomon presented a 3D geometric, frog-like design (2002). A kind of cryonics lab, this "immersive playground" installation included performances that were broadcast over the Internet; on-line viewers could participate via a chat interface— in a fictional scenario set 300 years in the future— inside the frog, which can hibernate.

How does Edith Russ Site position itself in relation to its larger neighbors such as the Center for Art and Media in Karlsruhe and Ars Electronica in Linz, Austria? According to Artistic Director Roseanne Altstatt, an American residing in Germany since 1994, "ERS is on a smaller scale , built in a town with population of 157,000. Instead of seeing media as necessarily a bombastic undertaking, we see this space as a place for intense, close work with international artists." Roseanne Altstatt continues, "Our concept is not production-based; we have no studios. It is solely for the presentation of art— via exhibitions, events, TV production, and workshops." ERS defines itself as focusing on the content of the artwork and technology’s influence on shaping and defining artistic ideas.

A part of the 2002-03 exhibition "Total Überzogen" (a German phrase meaning both "totally covered" and "totally over the top"), the building’s exterior acted as a surface for 15 billboard/banner-like works on canvas. Logos from ERS and sponsors competed visually with the artworks, and contributions included a trademark Jenny Holzer work titled If you can’t leave your mark give up (1977/2002) and a controversial banner designed by Deportation Class, and activist group using artistic strategies. Their poster-sized image reflects concern about procedures in the deportation of illegal immigrants from Germany— with clear and controversial reference to the Lufthansa corporate logo. Meanwhile, on Edith Russ Site’s front lawn, Julian Opie installed a series of road-like "escaped animal" signs, such as a cat and hedgehog. Despite their playful introduction, these signs raise issues of animal rights and environmental concerns.

In recent months, the center has expanded its activities at various sites in and around Oldenburg. At the time of my viewing, a video projection by Marikke Heinz-Hoek + BNC was installed in a large display window of the oldest building in Oldenburg, Degode-Haus. Velocity (2002) projects a poetic metaphor on time, with bold letters scrolling across a pulsating screen. Meanwhile, as an art/advertisement intervention, Edith Russ Site purchased a banner on the scaffolding of the to-be restored Harpstedt church to advertise its current exhibition. Proceeds from the banner sales were used to fund the church’s restoration on the occasion of its 250th anniversary. The Edith Russ Site was particularly interested in the intervention within the context of new fundrising strategies and "selling advertising on sacred space."

Over the past two years, the Edith Russ Site has organized half-hour segments of artist video programming, shown monthly on a local cable channel called Video Visions, the Edith Russ Site also works with the internationally renowed Oldenburger Filmfest and the Oldenburger Kultursommer, a month-long outdoor cultural festival. "The Site must be seen as a channel through which information on art with new media flows," says Roseanne Altstatt.

Future plans for the center? "To continue to build and fortify the bridge between "visual arts" and "media arts", which have often been considered two different fields," says Roseanne Altstatt. "And to expand educational programming combining art and media to a younger audience." And what about Edith Russ? What would she think? "Well, I can’t speak for her personally," says Altstatt. "But we hope she’d be pleased."